Delegates from the consumer protection agencies of more than 70 countries heralded the first ever meeting on Monday of UNCTAD's Intergovernmental Group of Experts (IGE) on Consumer Protection Law and Policy.
The establishment of this Group of Experts was requested in December 2015 by United Nations' member States, who want their regulators to access the latest thinking and best practices on consumer protection, which in a globalized and digitalized world has become more complex than ever.
The IGE was organized by UNCTAD and the meeting was opened by UNCTAD Deputy Secretary General Joakim Reiter.
"We have to act and ensure that even the voice of the smallest consumer, in a remote place of the world, can be heard and protected," Mr. Reiter said. "Consumer protection is not only a moral imperative; it is also good economics."
Speakers underlined the need for regulators to respond to the realities of the modern marketplace.
"The most significant and outstanding trends come from the digital environment," said CR Chaudhary, India's Minister of State for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, who said that use of the Internet to purchasing goods and new forms of online payment raise a number of issues relating to consumer protection.
France's Director General, for Competition, Consumption and Fraud Repression, Nathalie Homobono, said: "The globalisation of trade and what we call the digital revolution have given consumers a vital role in an interconnected world."
Countries will need to coordinate if the rights of consumers to be safe from harmful products and services were to be upheld.
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"Some countries will need legislative and institutional reform, others will need to strengthen their monitoring mechanisms, and still others will strive to enhance cooperation with their counterparts," Ms. Homobono said.
Amanda Long, the Director General of Consumers International, the world federation of 250 consumer groups, said: "We now live in a world where a relatively small number of companies have remarkable reach, both across country and also increasingly into our daily lives. From communication, to information, to shopping to monitoring your sleep, monitoring your health, many consumers increasingly rely on a small number of giant digital companies."
She added: "This combination of technology and size gives them remarkable power because it's increasingly difficult for consumers to walk away if they're not happy."
Mr. Reiter told participants that strong consumer protection at national level must also be matched internationally.
"Your work will be instrumental to lay the foundations of international consumer protection and UNCTAD is honored to assist you in this endeavor to make our economy work better for everyone," he said.
The meeting marked the culmination of work on the revised United Nations Guidelines on Consumer Protection which form a nominative framework for ongoing work and were officially launched at the event.